Harry Brook announced himself on the Ashes stage with a match-winning knock for England that kept the series alive and delivered another memorable Headingley climax.
Brook batted with great maturity as he made a steely 75, taking a decisive chunk out of the 251-run target and set a fire under this summer’s rivalry, leaving Australia 2-1 ahead with two to play.
The Yorkshireman fell with 21 still needed as the third Test descended into nerve-shredding tension, but Mark Wood cut through the anxiety with a feisty 16 not out and Chris Woakes completed a remarkable return to the Test arena by crunching the winning runs towards the delirious Western Terrace to finish unbeaten on 32.
England’s three-wicket win was achieved despite Ben Stokes’ dismissal for just 13, a soft nick down the leg-side robbing the hosts of their inspirational captain and the architect of their 2019 Ashes miracle at the start of the decisive final session.
But in Brook they had a new hero, ready to carry the burden all the way to final furlong before passing it over to Woakes and Wood – making an emphatic first impression on their belated introductions to the series.
England have chased down four bigger totals in the ‘Bazball’ era, including 296 at the same ground last year, but in keeping their hopes of reclaiming the urn afloat this is surely their most satisfying pursuit yet. After squandering promising positions at Edgbaston and Lord’s, England are finally on the board and will take renewed belief into the remaining clashes at Old Trafford and the Oval.
Mitchell Starc took England on almost single-handedly with five for 78 and did not deserve his place on the losing side.
Starting the day at 27 for nought, and needing another 224 to win, England traded blows through the morning session to leave with honours just about even.
Ben Duckett fell early, Moeen Ali’s unexpected promotion to number three in place of Brook saw the all-rounder knocked over for just five and Joe Root was strangled down leg for a modest 21. But Zak Crawley gave his side a much-needed lift with a measured 44 to leave England just about ahead at lunch with 98 needed at 153 for four.
Expectations were high as Stokes and Brook marched out for the afternoon session, with the victory line tantalisingly close but still distant enough to give Australia a chance.
But both teams have acknowledged the outsized importance Stokes’ wicket carries and there was an unshakeable feeling whenever he took strike that the destination of the game lay in his hands.
He endured an uncomfortable start, coming dangerously close to losing leg stump as he shuffled across to the second ball and then doubling up in pain after copping a painful blow to the groin.
Things improved when he threaded Starc to the longest boundary on the field but that was as far as he went, fiddling as Starc slipped one down leg feathering fatally through to Alex Carey.
Australia exploded in celebration as Stokes spun on his heels, for once passing the responsibility to others with 90 still to get.
Jonny Bairstow was unable to carry his share, continuing an increasingly angst-filled series by dragging down his stumps for five. Four of his runs came from another perilous inside edge and it was all too easy for Starc to spring the trap again, slanting one away and inviting a doomed swing of the bat.
Brook was still in place on 47, but Australia’s body language suggested they had delivered a killer blow. Woakes gave them every impression they were on to something at the start of his stay, sending a thick edge high over gully and ballooning a bouncer just short of third man off the shoulder of the bat.
But the Warwickshire man was no sitting duck. He leant on one that went all the way to the mid-wicket boundary and flicked Boland fine off his hip for four more. Brook was struggling to get on strike but did not grow impatient, poking into the gaps with enough regularity to keep himself and his side ticking over.
Slowly but surely Australia were running out of runs to play with and Brook helped himself to four more of them when he pulled a Cummins bouncer expertly between two out-riders.
By now he was growing by the minute, reaching 70 with a flourish as he carved Cummins into the gap at backward point. Just as an air of inevitability began to settle around the ground, the next twist arrived as Starc banged in a bumper and Brook went to slap it over cover.
Rather than race away to the Western Terrace the ball flew straight in the air, Cummins holding on as Starc threatened to barge him out of the way. With 21 needed the tension was palpable, but Wood cut through it with a scythe as he hooked Cummins for six over fine leg.
The last 12 runs came in a frenzy, short balls flicked and pulled in all directions and Carey delighting the crowd with a late drop. But the final moment was all class, Woakes flaying Starc for four in classical fashion to put an exclamation point on a rousing win.